Substitution provision key to junior cert deal

Substitution arrangements for teachers doing training and planning for new assessments will be key to a final deal that looks set to resolve the junior cycle reform dispute.

Substitution arrangements for teachers doing training and planning for new assessments will be key to a final deal that looks set to resolve the junior cycle reform dispute.

The provision of new management positions will also be a demand of unions and school managers in talks with the Department of Education over the next month.

Those discussions have been stalled until officials were freed up by the conclusion of the national pay talks, but a timeframe of the end of June has been set for completion of the junior cycle talks.

They follow agreement of the executives of Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) a week ago to ballot 27,000 members on the deal reached last week with Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan.

It sees the retention of a final written Junior Certificate exam, but a requirement that students undergo classroom-based assessment on projects or other work.

But those assessments would not be subject to external moderation, as previously proposed.

Students would now also be expected to complete an additional written assessment task for each examinable subject, based on their second classroom assessment. While undertaken in class, they would be marked by the State Examinations Commission and count towards Junior Certificate grades.

The question of whether the union executives recommend their members accept the final deal awaits the outcome of talks, and voting is not likely until after such decisions are considered in late August or early September.

A briefing document drafted by the ASTI for school stewards highlights how the deal explicitly states that all additional training and in-school planning for new assessments would only be done within members’ 22-hour weekly teaching timetables.

This would require an additional budget for substitution cover in schools, which in turn could cause logistical difficulties for schools to find enough substitutes for a particular subject in the narrow timeframes during which in-school assessments are expected to take place.

The deal also allows schools an option to put back until autumn of 2016 the first assessment exercise in English for students who have just finished first year. But education sources suggest most schools will proceed with the schedule to begin next spring instead to avoid assessment overload for third-year students in 2016/17.

This will require the quick completion of teacher training on new assessment methods by the end of this year, assuming the unions were to ballot in favour of the deal and end the 13-month industrial action.

School managers will also be represented at the talks and are likely to back unions on the need for proper middle-management structures that have been badly hit by a ban on promotions.

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